By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
If you want something to happen in Trenton, link it to a pay increase.
A bill being fast-tracked this week would allow state officials — like Gov. Chris Christie — to profit from writing a book, which is currently prohibited in state government.
Sen. Cory Booker can write a book, but he’s a federal official.
To entice support, a bill overturning the book deal ban is calling for significant increases in pay for judges, cabinet officers, county prosecutors, county sheriffs and clerks. And it increases the allotment each legislator receives for staff salaries from $110,000 to $140,000.
Senate co-sponsor Paul Sarlo says the judges deserve it.
“Many of these folks are some of the brightest legal minds we have and are giving up a lot,” he said.
Sen. Kevin O’Toole is the Republican chief sponsor.
State worker unions said, hey, what about us?
“I appreciate Sen. O’Toole’s articulation of how desperate the judges are. Let’s translate that to the public sector workers who are not making $160,000 a year,” said Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey President Dominick Marino.
Complicating the matter is that a second bill is being packaged with the bill raising salaries and allowing book deals. That bill would move all legal advertising currently in newspapers onto the internet. Sponsors say it will save money for municipal governments not to have to purchase newspaper space.
The newspaper industry successfully fought this measure five years ago and was fighting it again today.
“Our best estimate is that it will cost 300 jobs, layoffs, in the newspaper industry in New Jersey,” said Richard Vezza, editor and publisher of The Star-Ledger.
“Why is that the responsibility of state government to prop up an industry that is struggling? The newspaper industry is struggling. I don’t know that it is up to state government to prop it up,” said Sen. Jim Whelan.
Conventional wisdom at the State House is that reviving the legal advertising issue is Christie’s revenge against the newspapers over their Bridgegate coverage.
“You don’t have to read the tea leaves. This originated out of the governor’s office, it didn’t come from the Legislature. It was posted last Monday and it was fast tracked. It’s going to be voted on this Monday. It’s literally put on railroad tracks and run right through,” Vezza said.
“While this legislation may have been intended as a thumb in the eye of dailies, for weeklies this bill is a shotgun blast to the chest,” said New Jersey Hills Media Group Co-Publisher/Business Manager Stephen Parker.
The Senate Budget Committee approved the book deal and salary increase bill 7 to 3. Whelan’s state Government Committee approved the legal advertising bill 3 to 1. But the opposition was vocal.
“We know how the process works. This is a rush job and there’s only one reason for a rush job, especially when there’s no deadline, is you don’t want the public informed,” said Clean Water Action New Jersey Campaign Director David Pringle.
More money for legislative staffers is one thing, a big book deal for Christie another.
“To tie it to personally enriching one public official whose family made $930,000 last year is to our members beyond the pale and they can’t understand it,” said CWA Legislative and Political Director Seth Hahn.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee also passed both bills this afternoon. In other news here, Christie has signed the quarterly pension payments bill that Democrats have been working to get into law for over a year.